RaR6 – Tutti Frutti
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Tutti Frutii by Little Richard
Little Richard is one of rock and roll’s icons and a persistent reminder that rock and roll’s roots are firmly planted in African American traditions. He brought to rock the uninhibited performance traditions of country and Vaudeville blues, the frenetic energy of sanctified gospel music, the falsetto shouts of the field holler, and the rhythmic drive of boogie-woogie.
Richard Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, to a profoundly religious family. He heard primarily gospel music in the home and began singing with his family’s group, the Penniman Singers, as well as the Tiny Tots Gospel Quartet, when he was only a child. At age fifteen he left home to join a traveling minstrel show, where he was exposed to a broader variety of black music. It is not clear if he had already mastered boogie-woogie piano, or if he picked it up later in his career.
Little Richard won a talent competition in Atlanta in 1951, which ultimately led to a contract with RCA Victor. The label tried to mold him into a smooth R&B singer like Roy Brown, a popular black artist of the day, but his records in this style sold poorly. Further efforts might have yielded better results, but his father was murdered in 1952 and he had to return to Macon to support his family. Richard was washing dishes in a bus station and playing in local clubs when he encountered Bill Wright, a flamboyant blues singer from New Orleans. Wright was a dramatic performer who wore his hair in a high pompadour style and wore eyeliner and vibrant costumes on stage. Obviously, he made an impression on the younger musician!
Richard continued pursuing a recording career, and a demo tape eventually landed him a contract with Specialty Records. The label was looking for singers that could fuse gospel and rhythm and blues, a synthesis that had catapulted Ray Charles to stardom. When he got into the studio Richard tried a few slow blues tunes, but producer Bumps Blackwell was unimpressed. He suggested (as was then common) that they retire to a bar to get a few drinks. Richard was compelled to entertain the few patrons present at the bar and he launched into one of his crowd-pleasers, an up-tempo, twelve-bar blues over a boogie-woogie bass line with raunchy lyrics. Blackwell heard what he had been looking for and rushed his artist back to the studio. Richard was unable to come up with sufficiently clean lyrics for the song, but the producer was unwilling to scratch the session. He called in Dorothy LaBastrie, a local songwriter, who quickly turned “Tutti frutti good booty” into “Tutti frutti oh rookie,” and drafted the rest of the lyrics on the spot.
Little Richard quickly became one of rock and roll’s most successful performers; he enjoyed a string of hit records, appeared in several movies, and was a popular concert draw. An airplane-related scare and moral qualms about his sexuality led him to renounce rock and roll in 1957 to become a preacher. However, he returned to rock and roll in the early 1960s.
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR:
The 12 blues chord progression sped up
A signature, iconic singing with effects
Pounding piano figures
When you look at the form of the piece, notice that there are nine parts to the tune. What’s interesting is that of the nine, five of them are the chorus. This is one reason, of many, as to why this tune was such a big hit.
RATE-A-RECORD/QUESTIONS TO ANSWER:
Why is Little Richard such an important figure in the development of rock and roll, especially in its early stages?
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